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Pirates attack ship, kidnap two, off Nigerian coast

On 28 February, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that armed pirates opened fire on a cargo ship off the Nigerian coast, kidnapped the captain and chief engineer, and robbed the crew before fleeing. The attack also left one of the 14 crew members missing and another injured.

Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said about eight gunmen attacked the Dutch-owned, Curacao-flagged refrigerated cargo ship near the coast. He said he had received no word yet on any ransom demands.

The IMB said this incident is a continuation of serial piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. In September 2011, the group had warned that the seas off the Republic of Benin, Nigeria’s neighbour to the west, were becoming a new piracy “hotspot”, partly due to the deficiencies of maritime security arrangements in the region.

Choong said: “The attacks off the Nigerian coast are very violent and they are increasing, So far we have seen seven attacks off Nigeria this year and one off Benin. So that makes eight since the beginning of the year and we believe many more attacks may have gone unreported”.

However, in one of the recent incidents in which a tanker was hijacked, the IMB said Nigerian security vessels intercepted the ship and rescued its crew.

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Soldiers kill 8 Boko Haram fighters in Maiduguri, Borno State

On 20 February, the military Joint Task Force (JTF) said it killed eight Islamist insurgents who had attacked civilians in a market in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.

Local residents said the Boko Haram attack on the market was apparently a reprisal against the arrest of a member by some traders four days earlier. On 16 February, a lone gunman had walked into the market on a killing mission; but as he was about to pull the trigger of his AK-47 rifle, some traders over-powered him. A local source said the group probably went back to the market to “teach the traders a bitter lesson” over their action, attacking them with explosive devices which then attracted the JTF’s intervention.

The spokesman for the JTF, Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Mohammed, said: “This afternoon, gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram sect members attacked three civilians at the Baga Road Fish Market. The JTF men came on a rescue operation, engaged the suspects in a shoot-out and succeeded in killing eight of them”.

He further stated that “The JTF detonated three Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and defused several others recovered from the attackers. We also recovered large number of arms and ammunition from them”. He said the JTF had cordoned off the entire area and a “come down and search operation” was going on to uncover any hidden weapons and IEDs. He added that no JTF soldier was wounded or killed in the shoot-out.

Tanker explosion in Lagos, 3 killed, 39 vehicles burnt

On 18 February, three people were killed and 39 vehicles burnt, as a fuel tanker exploded at about 1 am, causing a massive blaze at the Mile Two area of Lagos.

The tanker, with registration number XB 370 ATN and fully loaded with 33,000 litres of fuel, was said to have lost one of its tyres. Its driver thereafter lost control and the tanker fell on its side and exploded. A mighty fire spread fast through the entire area.

Three people who were fast asleep in nearby structures were trapped in the inferno and burnt to death. One of them was a local official of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), who was sleeping inside the union’s office; the other two were a driver and an attendant in the park. The charred remains of all three were taken to a mortuary in an ambulance at about 3 am.

The fire also razed many vehicles, mostly commercial cars and buses parked by their operators at the close of work the previous day. These included eight Toyota Hiace mini buses (each estimated at N6 million), two Space wagons, eight LT buses, a towing vehicle and 16 salon cars. It took several hours before a team of the Lagos State Fire Service, with nine fire-fighting trucks, eventually subdued the inferno.

The General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr Oluwafemi Oke-Osanyintolu, confirmed that three people died. The Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Police Command, Mr. Jaiyeoba Joseph, a Superintendent of Police, said 39 vehicles were burnt.

SSS declares ex-soldier Habibu Bama wanted

On 15 February, the State Security Service (SSS) declared an ex-soldier, Habibu Bama, wanted.

A statement signed by the Deputy Director, Public Relations of the SSS, Marilyn Ogar, said Bama is “wanted by the Federal Government in connection with crimes against the state”. The terse statement, which did not give further details, said that the wanted ex-soldier is a Kanuri, from Bama in Borno State.

The SSS said that Bama was known by other names such as ‘Habib Bama’, ‘Shuaibu Bama’, and ‘Habib Mamman’.

It implored members of the public with any information that could lead to his arrest to immediately contact the nearest police station, military formations or other security agencies.

Ibrahim Lamorde confirmed as EFCC chairman

On 15 February, the Senate in Abuja, confirmed the appointment of Mr Ibrahim Lamorde as chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

President Goodluck Jonathan had, on 23 November 2011, appointed Lamorde to head the anti-graft agency. The appointment followed Jonathan’s sack of Mrs Farida Waziri as the commission’s chairperson, for undisclosed reasons.

Lamorde had been heading the agency in an acting capacity since then.

Pirates kill captain, chief engineer of cargo ship off Nigerian coast, IMB reports

On 13 February, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that pirates had shot dead the captain and the chief engineer on a cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria.

A notice on the IMB website said: “Armed pirates chased and fired upon a drifting bulk carrier. Vessel raised alarm and headed towards Lagos. All crew except the bridge team took shelter in the citadel. Due to the continuous firing, the captain and the chief engineer were shot”.

The website notice said this incident, which occurred about 110 nautical miles (126 miles) south of Lagos, is the latest in a string of attacks on vessels off the Nigerian coast.

On 9 February, pirates hijacked a tanker about 80 nautical miles (92 miles) from Cotonou, capital of Nigeria’s westward neighbour, the Republic of Benin, the bureau said. Again on Saturday, 11 February, a cargo ship about 70 nautical miles (80 miles) from Lagos, was shot at by pirates on two boats, who chased it for 25 minutes before giving up.

Last year, the IMO reported a 28 percent increase in pirate attacks on vessels off the West African coast, compared to a year earlier. It said 64 attacks were reported in 2011, up from 46 in 2010.

Boko Haram says arrested “senior member” is Abu Dardaa not Abul Qaqa, alleges “betrayal”

On 2 February, the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram, said its “senior member” arrested by security operatives the previous day was Abu Dardaa, not Abu Qaqa, as had been reported by some security and media sources. The group also claimed the man was arrested after he had started exploratory talks with “key fuctinaries of the Federal Government”.

In a telephone interview with some journalists in Maiduguri, a Boko Haram spokesman said: “The person that was arrested is Abu Dardaa and not Abu Qaqa. I am Abu Qaqa. I’m the spokesman of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnati Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (Boko Haram). Abu Dardaa is the head of the Lagina (Department) of Public Enlightenment and not the spokesman”. He added that: “Of course, Abu Dardaa is a senior member of our group”.

The spokesman alleged that the group was deceived by the government’s offer of dialogue and that the man arrested was trailed and picked up by security operatives shortly after he had an interaction with some “key functionaries of the Federal Government on the issue of dialogue”.

He said: “We initially thought that the much-talked-about dialogue was true and we actually resolved that after the initial meeting with Dardaa, we would send five representatives to stand for us. Part of what we told him to discuss with the government representatives was the unconditional release of our members as pre-condition for any further discussion”.

The spokesman further said that: “Indeed, he (the arrested man) had started talking to them but, unknown to him, they directed some security agents to trail him behind and arrested him. This is exactly what happened…Everybody knows our capability and tactics of operation. It is evidently clear that none of our members could be caught on a platter of gold and without confrontation”.

The spokesman further said: “The arrest of Abu Dardaa is an outright deception and betrayal by the Nigerian government and security agents…His arrest has proven to us that they were waiting for us to avail ourselves so that they can arrest us”.

He said: “I want to reiterate that we want all our members to be released for peace to return and for dialogue to hold”. He added that the arrest of its members will not deter his group from its campaign and the pursuit of its goals.

The group, loosely modelled on Afghanistan’s Taleban, says it is fighting to establish Islamic government, based on strict and comprehensive application of Sharia law, in at least 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states. In July 2009, it launched an uprising in the northeastern Borno State and, in five days of fighting with security forces, more than 800 people were killed. The group’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was among those killed.

Regrouping in late 2010, the group has conducted an increasinly deadly campaign targeting mostly police, military and other government personnel and institutions, but also Christians and churches.

In June 2011, it sent a first ever suicide bomber to the national headquarters of the police in the federal capital, Abuja; in August it bombed the Abuja office complex housing the 26 United Nations agencies working in Nigeria, killing 25 people. On Christmas Day, it bombed a church in Madalla near Abuja, killing over 40 worshippers. Most recently, on 20 January, its multiple bomb and gun attacks killed at least 186 people in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria.

Abul Qaqa, Boko Haram spokesman, arrested by SSS

On 1 February, an official of the State Security Service (SSS) said the agency had arrested Abul Qaqa, the spokesman of the militant Islamist sect widely known as Boko Haram.

An unnamed official had initially told Reuters news agency that security operatives were still trying to confirm the identity of the man arrested.  He said: “We are still talking to him. Since ‘Abu Qaqa’ is a pseudonym for the Boko Haram spokesman, we want to be sure of who we have with us”.

However, a later statement by a top SSS officer in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, confirmed the man arrested was actually the Boko Haram spokesman.

The officer said the man was arrested after security operatives had tracked signals from his mobile phone, using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. He further said the arrest of Qaqa, “a senior member of the Shura (Supreme Council) of the sect”, was “a landmark feat that was achieved through collaboration with various stakeholders”.

As there is yet no official report of this development, several accounts are emerging about how Qaqa was arrested. One source reports that he was arrested after security officials had traced the house he was staying in and that he was picked up without any exchange of gunfire with members of his group. Another account said he was seized while attempting to enter the Central Market in Kaduna. The SSS is expected to issue an official briefing that will clear up these contradictions.

Abul Qaqa had often spoken to journalists in the wake of bomb and gun attacks, claiming responsibility for several deadly incidents in the northern states and the federal capital, Abuja.

His most recent interaction with journalists was on 28 January, when he told some newsmen on phone, that security agents had arrested “many” members of his sect in Sokoto and demanded their “immediate and unconditional” release. He threatened that Boko Haram would attack Sokoto in the same manner as it bombed Kano city on 20 January, if the arrested men were not released.

One report said the arrested man is a Nigerian citizen, and that he is not from the far north of the country, but from central Kogi State, ethnically an Igala. This is yet to be confirmed by security authorities.

15 traders killed, burnt by gunmen in Zamfara State

Map of Nigeria showing Zamfara State

On 26 January, unidentified gunmen waylaid and killed 15 traders and then set their bodies ablaze near Birnin Magaji town in Zamfara State.

Local sorces said the traders were attacked as they were returning from a market in neighbouring Katsina State. They said the gunmen, numbering about 100, sprang from the bush and forced the open truck, in which the traders were travelling, to stop.

The Commissioner of Police in Zamfara State, Mr Tambari Yabo Mohammed, said: “The armed robbers waylaid the traders travelling back in an open truck and opened fire on them. They then loaded the truck with 14 bodies and burnt them”. He said a 15th victim died in hospital.

Although the Police chief suggested the attack may have been a case of armed robbery, local sources said it may be linked to some earlier incidents in Lingyado village in Zamfara State.

On 10 August 2011, vigilantes from Lingyado had evicted a group of people from the village whom they suspected of being behind a series of cattle and other robberies. Those evicted regrouped and attacked the village on 2 October, killing 23 villagers.

Commenting on that attack, the governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, had said: “From the information I have received, the attackers who are nomadic Fulani, invited their comrades from as far as Central African Republic, for the raid”.

Supreme Court sacks five governors: Adamawa, Bayelsa, Cross River, Kogi and Sokoto affected

On 27 January, the Supreme Court sacked the governors of five states, namely Adamawa, Bayelsa, Cross River, Kogi and Sokoto, from office.

The affected governors are Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Ibrahim Idris (Kogi) and Magatakada Wamakko (Sokoto). They are all members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In a unanimous decision, a 7-man panel of justices of the apex court chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Dahiru Musdapher, ruled that the affected governors had exceeded the four-year tenure stipulated in Section 180(2) of the 1999 constitution.

The judgment is in response to an appeal filed by the governorship candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in Adamawa State, retired Brig Gen Buba Marwa, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The appellants had challenged the decision of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which upheld the earlier decision of a Federal High Court extending the tenures of the five governors beyond 29 May 2011. The two lower courts had ruled that the tenures of the governors started to run from when they took their later oaths of office, following their victory in re-run elections, after their initial elections had been nullified.

In setting aside the judgments of the two lower courts, the Supreme Court held that the tenures of the governors started to count from the time they took their oaths of office after emerging winners in their respective state governorship elections in 2007 and not from when they took their second oaths of office after emerging winners of the re-run elections.

Following the judgment, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Mohammed Adoke, issued a statement directing Speakers  in the  five states affected to take over and preside in acting capacity until fresh polls are conducted and new governors emerge.

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